We live in a distorted world, a country where liars rule, liars who even legislate to make lies true. The combat with malignant disinformation is global and may not end any time soon. In the UK, we have the chance soon to be rid of some of these liars, but how soon and how fully will we be rid of their toxic legacy and the contagion of their warped thinking?
This article is a response and a comment on things said mainly by and among people and organisations committed to turning things around, specifically in terms of a key event of recent national history, the United Kingdom’s exit in 2020 for the European Union. Here, alongside some hopeful signs that truth is beginning to prevail and experience is changing the public mind, there seems to have been a variety of troubling signs and symptoms, sometimes in unexpected quarters, of defeatism, timidity, appeasement, the normalisation of public harm and even the suppression of dissent and ambition for corrective change. Here are some of these things said with comments.
- Saying that the 2016 Brexit referendum debate was too traumatic an experience to for us to repeat or revisit is, of course, a way of locking the door to escape from Brexit, which is precisely what Brexiters want.
- Saying that pro-Europeans must use the word ‘join’ and not ‘rejoin’ because the EU has changed is not a move which inspires or projects confidence. On the one hand, it implies that action to reverse Brexit would involve a leap into the unknown. On the other, it airbrushes the fact of our recent past as partners in the European project and the benefits which we have lost.
- This is not the appropriate posture for a movement that is takes pride in its 75-year history.
It is not a behaviour that communicates confidence and conviction. Rather it exhibits the anxieties and fears of the defeated, timidly awaiting the permission of others before one can again speak or act freely.
- Airbrushing our own memory and our own past, wanting to forget Brexit, forgetting our still recent past EU membership: this is not the way a self-respecting country or self-respecting political actors should address the challenges of the present. Leaving the EU has been the greatest act of folly and self-harm in our modern history; failing to reverse this error would be our greatest act of self-betrayal and cowardice.
- Some people advance, or toy with the suggestion that we should not (at least for some unspecified period) talk about either Brexit or Rejoin. This is a peculiar variant of populist magical thinking: gaslighting us and censoring our historical reality and thinking is supposed to help us change reality and change how the world thinks of us or our prospects. The reality is that Brexit harms us and will continue to harm us, whether or not we recognise this fact or try to airbrush it.
- The suggestion that the EU has changed beyond recognition since 2016 or will do so again in the next few years, is ill-founded and wildly exaggerated. The EU is established by treaty and there has been no major new treaty since Lisbon, which was signed in 2007. The core shared commitments and principles shared by the current member states have evolved gradually and incrementally and can be expected to do so in future. The EU has evolved since Lisbon, notably in response to Brexit, Covid and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, increasing its capacity for coordinated action in some key areas. Future potential and suggested treaty changes may include the voluntary addition new, closer and looser forms of cooperation respectively between and with some states. Strengthened European security and defence capabilities are indeed, and rightly, under urgent consideration in face of the Russian threat and the risk of a Trump presidency. The UK will now in all likelihood be party to some forms of closer European defence and security cooperation regardless of whether we see early progress towards Rejoin.
- The Lisbon treaty explicitly provides in Article 50 the process for members to leave the union and to rejoin it, and states that the process to rejoin is the same as the process set of out in Article 49 for the admission of new members. EU officials repeatedly state that the door for the UK to rejoin is open, subject to the prescribed conditions. There is no reason to expect this provision, or these conditions, to change.
- It is true that the UK’s negotiated terms of admission will not be identical with its terms of membership before Brexit. In all likelihood, some previous perks and dubious regulatory derogations will not be restored. However, based on the painful natural experiment which our economy is currently undergoing, the demonstrable net benefits of membership will in all likelihood prove, in a dangerous world, as great or greater than ever.
- A UK whose government has by democratic process decided to seek EU membership under the defined terms will in likelihood be a country the EU would be glad to welcome back. The EU and its member states are not themselves angelically pure entities, immune to corruption or regress. The conditions for a new admission application are not now in place; by the time the necessary changes and detoxifications have occurred in our politics, there ought to be a high chance of EU consent to our readmission and there is no reason why the negotiation need then take another decade, rather than two years as for Finland and Sweden. Crucially, however, the case for UK to rejoin should not be put on hold until we are pure. The public case for rejoin, dialogue with the EU and the necessary work of political reform should be pursued together, concurrently, with full vigour and without further delay. Some movement officials and pundits play the rhetorical trick of alleging that campaigners for rejoin believe the UK can rejoin the EU instantly, at will, and on the same terms as before. These allegations are mischievous, patronising and baseless.
- The public increasingly understands the truth about Brexit and expresses its wish to rejoin. Timid opposition politicians currently lurk and loiter some distance behind most of the public. And some of those who claim to represent or advise pro-Europeans now seemingly fear to offend timid opposition politicians by speaking the truth and calling for change. If the next government, which may be the last hope of our democracy, is undone by its own cowardice, pro-Europeans will have deserved our share of the blame.
- In a recent online debate, Farage accused Mike Galsworthy, chair of European Movement UK, of being “in denial”, by affirming that the UK will rejoin the EU. Some pro-Europeans, and some opposition politicians, unfortunately also talk as though reversing Brexit would be a denial of reality, a deviation from the new normal, an impossible attempt to set the clock back to 2016: going backwards, not going forwards. Experience has conclusively confirmed the contrary truth which many already knew and said: there is nothing progressive about Brexit or its effects. There is nothing positive or progressive about saying we must accept Brexit. There is nothing positive or progressive about pretending that Brexit can be made to work. A generation of fundamental inaction over Brexit means in all likelihood a generation of deepening harm. Brexit has been, and is, a conspiracy of a set of malignant interests against our public good. It has, not by chance, set in office the most corrupt and malignant UK government of modern times. Rejoin is not in itself a panacea for all our other grave national ills, but will considerably improve our chance of addressing them. This government must be removed, and in addition Brexit must be reversed.